Digging For Fire

[NOTE: this is part 2 of a longer piece.  For part 1, click here]

When you’re seventeen, it’s no stretch to say that at that age, music is as important as it will ever be in your life, and that the friendships you have will also be the most important.  Your friends become your life at that age, if not sooner, and they become your family.  I think it’s because at that age every experience is so intense to you; you fall in love and fall out of it with the gusto of a tragic Shakespearean character, and every good or bad thing that hits you is either the best thing or the worst thing ever.  And when some band is singing to you (yes, to you – not anyone else), it’s like God’s finger shooting a lightning bolt right between your eyes.  When you look back at that time in your life, you hear music, and years later when you hear that music, you remember that time in your life; you cannot avoid it.  You remember driving your town’s streets with friends, you remember basements at friends homes.  You remember parties at the homes of people you’ve forgotten. Every memory, and every life, has its own soundtrack.

Yet another truism holds that the friends you have at 17 are probably not the friends you have at 21 or 22.  Yes, we live in an age of social networking so it’s easy to keep “in touch” – lord knows I’ve kept in touch and reconnected with older friends through Facebook.  But back in the olden days before the internet and cell-phones, if you wanted to be friends with someone you had to make effort to do so.  You had to call them on the telephone – a telephone that may have been a rotary one (and if your sister was yapping on that phone – the only phone in your house … well, good luck with that).  Lots of people didn’t even have answering machines so if nobody answered you had to call back.  You saw friends at school and after school and on weekends, but only face-to face; you didn’t Tweet or tag each other in photos and videos, and you didn’t sleep with your cell or iPhone or Blackberry on to be kept in the loop twentyfourseven.

But five years down the road?  Chances are you’ve already lost touch with those people.  You’ve moved on and so have they.  Really, it’s because you’re in a different place than they are.  There’s rarely a “falling out” – you lose touch, you don’t return phone calls or emails and you gradually drift apart; it’s erosion, not an earthquake, and it continues throughout your life.  It happens when you graduate, it happens when you marry, it happens when you start a family.  Life continues and you realize that a great number of these friendships you thought would last forever only last a fraction of your lifetime.

So let’s jump back two decades, to September 1990.  I had 20 bucks burning a hole in my pocket, and I decided to zip down to the local record shop to see what was in the offering.   I cruised the rock section.  Now by “Rock” we’re talking about AC/DC, The Who, The Stones, Bon Jovi – your standard top 40 and certainly nothing “hip” or “new” or “cool.”  I perused the racks – the cassette racks, since I had a walkman, not a portable CD player, and found myself flipping through the Beatles catalog.  I was and remain a fan of the Beatles – as I said in the previous installment, good music is good music – and I found myself with a copy of Abbey Road in hand – surely one of the greatest rock albums of all time, loaded with classic late era Beatles songs.  I kept the copy with me and worked my way down the aisle, past Foghat, past Kiss, past the Pixies –

Wait, the Pixies?  There’s a Pixies album here?  In this store?

I don’t know how my friend Elliott heard about the Pixies – all I know is he swung over to my place earlier that summer with a copy of Doolittle because he, myself and other friend Mark were driving to Kingston to see Robocop 2 (a double irony, given that exactly 10 years later production wrapped on Robocop Prime Directives – my first produced work – the villain of which was a character named Bone Machine, a name lifted from the lead track of the Pixies Surfer Rosa album).  We listened to Doolittle on the way there and, in the words of a Pixies song on a different album, were Blown Away.  It was loud and primal and melodic and for that summer, the Pixies were the soundtrack of my life.  I had no idea who they were or where they were from, but by listening to Doolittle over and over and over again, I pictured some long haired demonic beings unleashed upon my eardrums.  I learned their names – David Lovering on drums, Joey Santiago on lead guitar, the ethereal Kim Deal on bass (who ushered many teenage of fantasies about cool bands with hot female bass players named Kim), and the man with the voice that could go from melodic to a growl within the same verse was the enigmatic Black Francis.

The Pixies began to mark a shift in my listening – like many my age I was into my share of Zeppelin and The Doors and The Beatles, but had begun to move into a larger world.  I still like the old guard – face it, a great song is a great song – but there was something about “discovering” music that few others were into – music that put you in a rarefied category.  Music that marked you as an individual, nor part of a crowd.

I pulled the lone cassette from the slot, assuming it would be Doolittle, but the red tinged cover told me this was something else.

This was something different.

This was something new.

This was

A quick scan of the back cover pegged Bossanova as a 1990 release.  It was brand new, unheard, and in my grasp.  Thoughts crashed through my brain.  What was it doing here?  Had someone ordered it weeks ago and not claimed it, prompting the store owner to put it on the shelves?  I had NEVER seen a Pixies album for sale in this store ever, and believe me I looked – I tried to order copies of Surfer Rosa and Come on Pilgrim and after flipping through his big catalog, the store owner couldn’t find it, meaning I was SOL. But here it was, in my hand, and I had the money for it.

I looked at Abbey Road in one hand.  The Beatles.  A classic.

I looked at Bossanova in the other.  The Pixies.  A new album.

For a moment I did consider making The Safe Choice, but as I moved ever so slightly to put Bossanova back, I felt my grip tighten on it.  I’d made my decision, shoved Abbey Road back where it belonged and took Bossanova to the counter.  It was a decision that changed my life, though I didn’t realize it at the time.  It marked a shift away from the classic rock, the safe rock, and deeper into the world of Alternative Nation.  It was the first big step into a bigger world.  In fact, after that day in September 1990, nothing would ever be the same for me.

“The Pixies” said the clerk as he glanced at the cover and entered the price into the register.  “Sounds kinda faggy” he continued.  “Need a bag?”

I handed over my money and shook my head “no.”  I was going to pop this sucker into the tapedeck of my car the moment I got into it.  I returned to my trusty old Toyota Camry, popped it into the deck and soon enough the melodic sound of guitar filled the air.  I cruised town, not heading home until Bossanova was finished, to the haunting final chords.  Once home, I popped it into my tape deck in my room and listened to it again, this time looking at the liner notes and finally got to see what these guys looked like.  David Lovering looked like a banker; Joey Santiago looked – well, pretty much like I imagined; a gunslinger.  Kim Deal was brunette, not blonde as I imagined, and looked like someone I’d see hanging around my town. And Black Francis, he of the loud quiet loud and howl?  He looked like – Christ he looked like me (and still does to a degree).

Popular consensus is that Bossanova is the Pixies weakest album.  By this point the rift had been growing between Black Francis and Kim Deal – her side-project, The Breeders would, in a few short years, eclipse The Pixies as far as taking the mainstream – who can remember the summer of 1993 and not think of “Cannonball?”   Yet it’s my favourite Pixies album.  It doesn’t rock as hard as Doolittle or Surfer Rosa, it’s not as “out there” as their swan song Trompe Le Monde, but Bossanova doesn’t sound like any other Pixies album, and for that reason it stands above the pack. It’s my Sgt. Pepper, my Nevermind the Bollocks, and my Nevermind.  Even now, listening to it 20 years later (and I never really stopped listening to it in that 20 years), it transports me back to that moment in my car, letting its sonic beauty swirl around me.   The Beatles and The Who and The Doors went to the back of the collection and I was seeking out music found left of the dial.  It blasted nitrous oxide through my being and propelled me to new heights and a new world of music; to a planet of sound.

Life went on, and I lost touch with a lot of people, but not with the music we all loved.  People pass in and out of your life with alarming frequency, but music remains with you long after they’ve gone, and as I would discover fifteen years later, both the music you love and the friends who love it with you have a surprising way of returning to your life.